How We Can Get Clean Energy—Is Nuclear Power Safe?

Editor's note: this is the second in a three-part series on how we can get clean energy. Part I explains the relationship between Fuel and Human Progress, Part II answers the question “Is Nuclear Power Safe?” and Part III provides an answer to “What Needs to Be Done?”

A lot of fuss has been raised about nuclear power plants. Some say they emit cancer-causing radiation, that there is no way to dispose of the wastes they produce, that they are prone to catastrophic accidents, and could even be made to explode like bombs. These are serious charges. Let’s investigate them.

Routine Nuclear Power Plant Radiological Emissions

Americans measure radiation doses in units called rems or, more often, millirems (mrem), which are thousandths of a rem. Europeans use units called sieverts (1 sievert equals 100 rems). While high doses of radiation delivered over short periods can cause radiation poisoning or cancer, there is, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “no data to establish unequivocally the occurrence of cancer following exposure to low doses and dose rates—below 10,000 mrem.” Despite this scientific fact, the NRC and other international regulatory authorities insist on using what is known as the “Linear No Threshold” (LNT) method for assessing risk.

According to the LNT methodology, a low dose of radiation carries a proportional fraction of the risk of a larger dose. So, according to LNT theory, since a 1000-rem dose represents a 100 percent risk of death, then a 100-mrem dose should carry a 0.01 percent risk. If this were true, then one person would die for every 10,000 people exposed to 100 mrem. Since there are 330 million Americans and they already receive an average of 270 mrem per year, this would work out to 90,000 Americans dying every year from background radiation, a result with no relationship to reality. Fundamentally, the fallacy of the LNT theory is the same as concluding that since drinking 100 glasses of wine in an hour would kill you, drinking one glass represents a one percent risk of death. It’s quite absurd, and the regulators know it. But we are talking government regulators here, so, naturally, they use it anyway. That said, let’s look at the data.

The annual radiation doses that each American can expect to receive from both natural and artificial radiation sources are provided in the table below.

Examining the table, we see that the amount of radiation dose that members of the public receive from nuclear power plants is insignificant compared to what they receive from their own blood (which contains radioactive potassium-40), the homes they live in, the food they eat (watch out for bananas!), the medical care and air travel they enjoy, the planet on which they reside, and the universe in which their planet resides.

In fact, far from increasing the radiological exposure of the public, nuclear power plants reduce it. Coal contains radioactive constituents. Worldwide, coal-fired power stations release some 30,000 tons of radioactive radon, uranium, and thorium into the atmosphere every year. They also emit millions of tons of highly toxic chemical ash containing mercury, arsenic, and selenium, not to mention over 10 billion tons of CO2 per year. In addition to 10 million tons of CO2, a single 1,000 MWe coal-fired power plant produces 200,000 tons of ash annually and, as well as several hundreds of tons of mercury and other chemical poisons, sends some 27 tons of radioactive material—half radon, the other half uranium and thorium—right up the chimney. The amount of uranium and thorium emitted to the environment as pollution by coal-fired power plants would be more than enough to fuel every nuclear power plant in the country to produce equivalent power without any of the CO2, toxic gas, or radiological emissions.

Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, but it contains radioactive radon. Not much, to be sure, typically about 0.03 microcuries per cubic meter. But that adds up. A 1000 MWe natural gas power plant sends about 8 curies of radon into the environment every month. That’s just about the same as what the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant let loose just once—during its world-famous meltdown in March 1979!

Now, I am not saying that coal and natural gas power plants should be shut down because of their radioactive releases. But since they routinely emit more radiation than not only well-functioning nuclear power plants but also a nuke during the worst reactor accident in US history, the fervor of the authorities and activists in this area would appear to be wildly misplaced.

Nuclear Waste Disposal

One of the strangest arguments against nuclear power is the claim that there is nothing that can be done with the waste. In fact, the compact nature of the limited waste produced by nuclear energy makes it uniquely attractive. A single 1000 MWe coal-fired power plant produces about 600 tons of highly toxic waste daily, more than the entire American nuclear industry does in a year. The portion of this that is not simply sent up the stack piles up near the power plant, or is dumped somewhere else, eventually finding its way into the biosphere. Despite the clear, non-hypothetical consequences of this large-scale toxic pollution, no one is even talking about establishing a waste isolation facility for this material, because it is not remotely possible. In contrast to such an intractable problem, the disposal of nuclear waste is trivial.

It must be said: The hazards of nuclear waste disposal have been exaggerated by environmentalists, with the openly stated purpose of seeking to create a showstopper for the nuclear industry. They claim to be interested in public safety and ecological preservation. Neither claim is supportable. By protecting fossil fuel power from nuclear power, those who are anti-nuke are perpetuating environmental destruction. Regarding public safety, they are even worse. Indeed, it must perplex the rational mind that anyone can agitate, litigate, and argue with a straight face that it is better that nuclear waste be stored in hundreds of cooling ponds adjacent to reactors located near metropolitan areas all across the country than that they be gathered up and laid to rest in a government-supervised depository far removed from civilization. Yet that is what they do.

There are two excellent places to store nuclear waste: under the ocean floor or under the desert.  The US Department of Energy has opted for the desert, but the ocean solution is much simpler and cheaper. Let’s talk about that first.

The way to dispose of nuclear waste at sea works as follows: First, you glassify the waste into a water-insoluble form. Then you put it in stainless steel cans, take it out in a ship, and drop it into the mid-ocean, directly above sub-seabed sediments that have been, and will be, geologically stable for tens of millions of years. Falling through several thousand meters of water, your canisters will reach velocities that will allow them to bury themselves deep under the mud. After that, your waste is not going anywhere, and no one will ever be able to get their hands on it. Furthermore, no nomads roaming the earth after the next ice age has eliminated all records of our civilization will ever be harmed by accidentally stumbling upon it. (I mention this latter point because the protection of the public for the next 10,000 years, under all contingencies, has been made a Department of Energy nuclear waste repository requirement.)

This solution has been well known for years. Unfortunately, it has been shunned by Energy Department bureaucrats, who—despite their concern for post-Ice Age wandering cannibals—seemingly prefer a large land-based facility because it involves a much bigger budget, as well as by environmentalists who wish to prevent the problem of nuclear waste disposal from being solved. Thus, in the 1980s, the Department of Energy looked the other way and allowed Greenpeace to pressure the London Dumping Convention into banning sub-seabed disposal of nuclear waste. That ban expires in 2025. If world leaders are in any way serious about finding an alternative to fossil fuels to meet the energy needs of modern society, they will see to it that the ban is not renewed.

If the ban is not ended, that leaves the Department of Energy’s plan to put the waste under Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert as an alternative. While wildly over-priced, the plan has been exhaustively and thoroughly vetted, and it meets the most stringent standards of public safety.

However, regardless of the fact that the project has been thoroughly analyzed—the site has been called “the most studied real estate on the planet”—environmentalist lobbying caused the Obama administration and allied lawmakers to oppose the project, and in 2011, federal funding for it was revoked. The Government Accountability Office noted that no technical or safety reasons were provided for shutting down the project. The Trump administration pledged to restart the project but did not, and the Biden administration, while claiming that it sees climate change as an “existential crisis” (i.e., one that involves the survival of humanity), has chosen not to do so, as well. Meanwhile, even with funding revoked, the government faces a liability of $15 billion, growing by another billion every two years, for failing to meet its contractual obligations to produce a nuclear waste repository.

Nuclear accidents

Nuclear accidents are certainly possible, but rare. Throughout its entire history, the world’s commercial nuclear industry has had three major accidents: Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979; Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986; and at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

The Three Mile Island event was the only nuclear disaster in US history. It is also unique in another sense: it was the only major disaster in world history in which not a single person was killed or even injured.

There were two 843 MWe Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) at Three Mile Island, labeled TMI-1 and TMI-2. On March 28th, 1979, TMI-1 was shut down, but TMI-2 was operating at full power when its turbine tripped. This shut off the secondary loop water flow to the steam generator, which meant that nothing was taking away heat from the primary loop cooling the reactor. As a result, the control rods dropped into place, instantly shutting down the chain reaction. But, because the reactor had been operating for some time, the large volume of highly radioactive fission products that had built up in the core continued to generate heat via radioactive decay.

The fact that a reactor would continue to generate decay heat even after the chain reaction had been shut down was well known. According to anti-nuclear activists, it meant that, while loss of coolant would cause nuclear fission to cease, the uncooled reactor would melt itself down, with a mass of highly radioactive fission products unstoppably melting its way through the 20-cm (8 in.) thick steel pressure vessel, then through the 2.6-meter (8.6 ft) thick containment building floor, then right on down through the earth, all the way to China.

But instead of the hot fission products melting their way through the pressure vessel, the containment building, and the earth, all the way to China, they actually melted their way a couple of centimeters (about an inch) into the pressure vessel and stopped there. That was it. A billion-dollar reactor was lost, but the containment system was never even seriously challenged. A few curies of radioactive iodine-131 gas (half-life: ∼ 8 days) were vented, exposing the public in the area to about 1 mrem of radiation, equivalent to the extra dose they would have received during a five-day ski trip to Colorado instead of staying in Pennsylvania. The environmental impact was zero. If anyone was harmed, it was because the very anti-nuclear lawyers running the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided that the accident warranted keeping the untouched TMI-1 unit shut down for the next six years, and it is estimated that the pollution emissions over that time released by the coal-fired power plants used to replace its output were probably responsible for hundreds of deaths.

The 2011 Fukushima accident was much more serious. Caused by a powerful undersea earthquake and the resulting tsunami that buffeted the facility with waves nearly fifty feet high, the power plant flooded, and both grid power and the on-site backup diesel generators were knocked out, eliminating the emergency core cooling system. This eventually led to full meltdowns of three of the six reactors. Nevertheless, if anything, the Fukushima event proved the safety of nuclear power. Amid a disaster that killed some 28,000 people by drowning, collapsing buildings, fire, suffocation, exposure, disease, and many other causes, not a single person was killed by radiation. Nor was anyone outside the plant gate exposed to any significant radiological dose.

IAEA experts deaprt Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 

IAEA experts depart Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan's plans to decommission the facility. Photo Credit: Greg Webb / IAEA

From the point of view of radiation release, Chernobyl was the most serious nuclear plant disaster of all time. At Chernobyl, a runaway chain reaction led to an explosion that breached all containment. Approximately 50 people were killed during the event itself and the firefighting efforts that followed immediately thereafter. Furthermore, radioactive material comparable to that produced by an atomic bomb was released into the environment. According to a study by the International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization using LNT methodology, over time, this fallout could theoretically cause up to four thousand deaths among the surrounding population. Chernobyl was really about as bad as a nuclear accident can be. Yet, even if we accept the exaggerated casualties predicted by LNT theory as being correct, in comparison to all the deaths caused every year as a result of the pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants, its impact was minor. Chernobyl -like catastrophes would have to occur every day to approach the toll on humanity currently inflicted by coal. By replacing a substantial fraction of the electricity that would otherwise have to be generated by fossil fuels, the nuclear industry has actually saved countless lives.

Still, Chernobyl-like events need to be prevented, and they can be by proper reactor engineering. In the first place, the Chernobyl reactor had no containment building. If it had, there would have been no radiological release into the environment. In the second place, had the reactor been designed to lose reactivity beyond its design temperature—as all water-moderated reactors are—the runaway reaction would have never occurred. The key is to design the reactor in such a way that as its temperature increases, its power level will go down. Water is necessary for a sustained nuclear reaction in a pressurized water reactor because it serves to slow down, or “moderate,” the fast neutrons born of fission events enough for them to interact with surrounding nuclei to continue the reaction. It is physically impossible for such a water-moderated reactor to have a runaway chain reaction because as soon as the reactor heats beyond a certain point, the water starts to boil. This reduces the water’s effectiveness as a moderator, and without moderation, fewer and fewer neutrons strike their target, causing the reactor’s power level to drop. This is why Captain Hyman Rickover chose the water pressurized reactor as the system for powering the submarine Nautilus, which, after its launch in 1954 then became the model for the Pressurized Water Reactors and related types that have comprised the vast majority of nuclear power plants ever since. The system is intrinsically stable, and there is no way to make it unstable. No matter how incompetent, crazy, or malicious the operators of a water-moderated reactor might be, they can’t make it go Chernobyl.

In contrast, the reactor that exploded at Chernobyl—a Soviet RBMK reactor—was moderated not by water, but by graphite, which does not boil. It therefore did not have the strong negative temperature reactivity feedback of a water-moderated system, and in fact, because water absorbs neutrons while graphite does not, it actually had a positive temperature coefficient of reactivity, which caused power to soar once water coolant was lost. It was thus an unstable system, vulnerable to a runaway reaction when its operators decided to do some really dumb experiments. Furthermore, with a huge amount of hot graphite freely exposed to the environment once the reactor was breached, fuel was available for a giant bonfire to send the whole accumulated stockpile of radioactive fission products right up into the sky. The Chernobyl reactor wasn’t just unstable, it was flammable!

No such crazy system could ever get permitted in the United States or any other civilized country by the local fire department, let alone the nuclear regulators. Those who died at Chernobyl weren’t victims of nuclear power. They were victims of the Soviet Union.

Can Reactors Explode Like Bombs?

In a word, no. Because water is used as both coolant and moderator in a water-moderated reactor and is replaced by cooler water when it gets too hot, it is physically impossible for such a reactor to sustain a runaway chain reaction, let alone explode like a bomb. Chernobyl was a runaway fission reaction, but it was not an atomic bomb. The strength of the explosion was enough to blow the roof off the building and break the reactor apart into burning graphite fragments, but the total explosive yield was less than that provided by a medium-sized conventional bomb.

Bombs require uranium enriched to contain over 90 percent fissile U-235, much more than the 3 to 5 percent enriched material used in commercial nuclear reactors. Highly enriched fuel is used in nuclear submarines. But even if a terrorist managed to steal the reactor out of a submarine while no one was looking, he still wouldn’t be able to make it explode like a bomb. Exquisite engineering design is required to bring a critical mass of highly enriched fissile materials together so fast that heat generated by a partial chain reaction cannot blow them apart before they can combine, all while ensuring the chain reaction occurs before the materials can separate. It took the concerted efforts of some of the world’s greatest scientists working at Los Alamos to design and implement such a controlled “implosion” system during World War II. A reactor has no such mechanism.

Nuclear Proliferation

But can’t the industrial infrastructure used to produce three percent enriched fuel for nuclear reactors also be used to make 90 percent enriched material for bombs?

Yes, it can. It is also true, however, that such facilities could be used to make bomb-grade material without supporting any nuclear reactors. In fact, until Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace policy was set forth, the AEC opposed nuclear reactors precisely because they represented a diversion of fissionable material from bomb-making. If plutonium is desired, much better material for weapons purposes can be made in standalone atomic piles than can be made in commercial power stations. This is so because when fissile plutonium-239 bred from U-238 is left in a reactor too long, it can absorb a neutron and become Pu-240 which is not fissile, and which ruins it for bomb-making purposes. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had thousands of atomic weapons before either had a single nuclear power plant, using either highly enriched uranium or plutonium made in special military fuel production reactors that allow constant removal of fuel. Others desirous of obtaining atomic bombs could and would proceed the same way today.

As an additional safeguard against nuclear proliferation, thorium reactors can be used in lieu of uranium reactors. Thorium (atomic number 90; atomic weight 232) is about four times as plentiful as uranium but only about one-third as radioactive.

In the late 1970s, the Carter administration became interested in promoting proliferation-proof reactors and commissioned Admiral Rickover to convert the original Shippingport Atomic Power Station reactor to uranium-233/thorium. This conversion was entirely successful. However, with the halt in new reactor orders in the US following the Three Mile Island event, it has been left to India, which is uranium-short but very thorium-rich, to move forward with the technology.

Nuclear power is safe. Close to a thousand pressurized water reactors have been operated on land and sea for the past seven decades without causing harm to a single member of the public. No other major power source has a safety record that is even remotely comparable. Moreover, it is clean and unlimited. Yet because of a scare campaign mounted by opponents motivated by ignorance, ideology, or interests, we have been denied the immense benefits that it offers.

How can this situation be rectified? In the next part of this series, I will lay out what needs to be done.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/04/29/how-we-can-get-clean-energy-part-ii/
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You make a very good case for nuclear safety. It is essential, of course, that nuclear not only be safe, but be perceived as being safe by a high % of the population, if we want to see nuclear deployment on a meaningful scale.

I see that Netflix is about to release a documentary series called Meltdown: Three Mile Island. I haven’t seen it and don’t know what angle it will take–maybe it will eschew fear-mongering and take a responsible attitude both toward TMI and toward the larger issues of nuclear safety. But this summary doesn’t sound encouraging in that direction.

A woman who tweets as @MadiHilly has created an issue brief to put the TMI event in perspective for people who have watched the Netflix series…I wonder if the nuclear manufacturers are doing any work to get ready to provide their responses? They certainly should be.

I have a new piece on the nuclear power industry and its prospects here; I’ve linked this Quillette series.

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This is where “big nuclear” (if it exists) has failed dramatically in the past; hopefully the want to decarbonize will trump the irrational fear of nuclear energy. The recent talk of nuclear weapon usage in Ukraine may not help nuclear energy’s case.

PS. Great follow-up article Robert.
PSS. Really enjoyed your piece too @David_Foster and the subsequent discussion.

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Actually this result is completely and plausibly in conformance with reality. At one point we knew that around 80% of cancer was environmentally caused. That may have changed some with the decline of smoking, but there are still about 2 million new cancer cases, and about 600,000 cancer deaths per year in the U.S.A.

If out of those 600,000 deaths and 2 million diagnoses, 90,000 were due to background radiation - that’s clearly believable.

Sorry dude, but when you lead with a poor shot like that, not to mention that you’re clearly practicing “motivated reasoning”, I kind of discredit everything else you are going to say.

One quibble with the article. Chernobyl did not explode, at least the reactor didn’t. It was a water cooled graphite pile, which is the worst combination of technologies possible. The water cooling channels ran vertically through the pile, fed from a room under the reactor. Being soviet, they knew welds in this room’s plumbing would leak… So they filled the entire room with water.

When the reactor melted down, it fell through the non-containment level floor, into a huge pool of water, instantly flashing it to steam and creating a steam explosion. In fact, every nuclear accident outside of bomb programs that exploded, has been a steam explosion. Steam is dangerous!

England had it’s windmere accident. An AIR cooled graphite pile, running with rapid exchange of fuel to create plutonium for their bomb program, caught fire, melted down, but never exploded, as there was no water involved.

I highly recommend “Atomic Accidents”, by James Mahaffey, for a good look at the history of atomic power. He points out that virtually every accident has involved people trying to out-think safety systems. (For example, Fukishima 1 had a functioning thermosyphon shutdown cooling system… that someone shut off just before the power failed, due to concerns it would cool the reactor too quickly and “damage something”)

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Interesting tidbit from David Foster’s piece: “A recent Pew survey indicates that about 50% of US adults are in favor of expanding nuclear power plants; however, there is a big gap between Republicans and Democrats (60% vs 43%) and also a big gap between men and women (59% vs 41%).”

Thus, a political challenge of which I was unaware: women need to be convinced!

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All of the discussions surrounding nuclear power may have recently become moot. Recently, a UK company called First Light Fusion has developed a method of fusion which has incredible potential for developing commercially viable fusion. They have already demonstrated the process in a lab and, critically, the reaction requires less energy input than released. Like so many recent innovation inspiration for this projectile-based system of fusion came from nature- in this case, the pistol shrimp- with which fans of Jamie Foxx will already be familiar, through his recent 2020 Netflix movie Project Power. Here is a link to their website:

As usual my essays are to be found on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:

Of the 90,000 deaths due to background radiation, how many were exposed to radiation from nuclear energy facilities and was that the radiation that caused their cancer?

I don’t think this is correct, at least not yet:

Having achieved nuclear fusion, the team is now planning a ‘gain’ experiment, in which more energy is put out than in.

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In February of this year, an organization called ‘Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’ published a long critique of nuclear and SMRs in general and of NuScale and the Utah project in particular. It appears to have gotten a fair amount of attention, but I’ve seen no response from NuScale or from other industry players.

The industry is going to need to do a lot better at public communications.

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Good spot. From the reading I found, it did appear as though the net energy would be positive, but apparently just in principle.

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Oh, well, then - we can all just be happy, relax, and learn to love it.

Here’s the thing - no one can define for another person, much less for an entire country - what “safe” is. This is a democracy (flawed as it may be) and you have to convince.

Ummm…

The author, though erudite in his way, is apparently too young to remember how the discussion really went on. And I guess if you read history books, you could pick and choose your sources.

I do remember the “conversation.” First came, not a “scare campaign”, but rather a huge propaganda push saying just what the author says - “Nuclear power is safe”. Along with statements like “too cheap to meter” and a host of other pro-nuke pronouncements. We were all supposed to be on board and for a long time, the nation was.

Then a rag-tag bunch of skeptics managed to convince the whole nation that maybe nukes weren’t really the best way to go. How? Huge rampant cost overruns, for one thing. I personally well remember when a bunch of ex-hippies opposing the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, more correctly estimated the eventual cost of that plant, compared to all the company-paid “experts.” The resulting rate shock and effect on real-world families and pocketbooks, dispelled a lot of spin.

I also remember the calculations that said, with all the backups to backups to backups, the chances of any accident were infinitesimal - numbers such as “one accident in 4 million years” (going by memory there). Then we found out that accidents happen. So much for the fancy math and predictive statistics.

It wasn’t that a “scare campaign” somehow sullied a wonderful beneficial technology. Rather, truth-tellers (and reporters, and simple observation of the real world) punctured the rosy vision enough times to where pro-nuke folks lost credibility.

This article’s so full of motivated reasoning and slant that it’d take chapters to point it all out. Let’s look at the comparison to coal, for just one (all I have time for, I’m too wordy as it is, I’ve been reliably informed).

I’ll forgive the author for being a little light on sources, citations: this isn’t an academic paper. But doing the numbers based on his statement above, he’s claiming that coal kills 4,000 people per year.

According to the World Health Organization, “Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year.”

The author’s thrust - or one of them - seems to be that since there are so many more coal deaths than nuke deaths, let’s not worry about nukes, let’s embrace them, use them, build more of them. By that same logic, since tobacco deaths are so much more numerous than coal deaths, then let’s just embrace coal. Presumably dusting off old coal plants, building new ones, mining more. After all, you’d need to burn 2,000 times as much coal as we do now, to cause as many deaths as tobacco does.

I know, that comes off as kind of silly. But it does follow pretty much the same logic as the author uses. The problem is that in both cases, you’re comparing apples to oranges.

In the end, what kills the author’s attempt to convince is this. Pro-nuke folks were exposed and/or tarred decades ago as a bunch of lying shills, P.R./propaganda flacks, tools of the industry. Suppose that the author is a well-meaning, decent man who is reasonable but simply has his own take on things. It’s still the case that he’s in bad company.

Most people make up their minds and once made up, it’s pretty hard to change them. A large percentage of the population decided that if you hear somebody putting out a pro-nuke line, you can pretty much believe the opposite of whatever he (or she) says.

I’ve known reasonable, honest pro-nuke folks, including ones who were at the time currently and recently working in the industry. They weren’t liars, shills, etc. It didn’t matter. People just aren’t going to get on board a pro-nuke train; it derailed and crashed a long time ago. Pro-nuke folks are wasting their breath and their time (and ours). The world’s now heading in a different direction (renewables) whether any one individual likes it or not. As a society we have a lot of choices; this one got made, there’s no going back.

Aren’t these two statements contradicting each other?

Made by whom?
And whats with this “theres no going back” theory?
According to this “theres no going back” theory, if a mistake is made, there is no going back, humanity has to persist in said mistake because well…theres no going back.
What is this nonsense?

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Very true. I would not be surprised to learn that Claire has a great deal of money invested in nuclear energy given how many one-sided pro-nuclear, anti-renewable stories the site has published in recent months. I’m pro-nuclear myself as part of an all-of-the-above approach to decarbonizing the economy, but it’s worth noting that the nuclear industry has been promising that “this time is different” (in terms of reducing the expense and increasing the efficiency of constructing plants) for decades.

The shift in public opinion happened pretty suddenly, and was helped along by Jane Fonda…
The movie, “The China Syndrome” had a huge effect on public opinion. This is where the idea of burning through the earth’s crust came from, not scientists but screenwriters. Released shortly before 3 mile island, it seems oddly prophetic, “would wipe out an area the size of Pennsylvania”… So people were primed to panic when TMI happened.

In hindsight, PWR’s may not have been the best way to go. There are many other options, PWR was largely a political choice to scale up the very successful navel reactor program. But, little reactors have little problems, big reactors have big problems. You can shut down a navel reactor and walk away, there isn’t enough residual energy to melt it down. Scale it up, however, and now you have to maintain cooling for a few days after shutdown.

How much of the cost overruns were engineering/technical, and how much directly caused by environmentalists and lawyers? “You can’t build that because it’s too expensive, and to make sure you don’t here’s 20 lawsuits”.

There is always a way to go back. The lure of nuclear is the power density. An average citizen of a western country will, over the course of their life, use millions of chords of wood in equivalent energy, tens of thousands of drums of oil, hundreds of acres of solar cells… or a chunk of uranium about the size of a large soda. Keep improving the reactor design, and someday our grandchildren may decide they have to replace a few hundred thousand acres of solar with a 20 acre nuclear plant, to save the planet.

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Governor Newsom of California is feeling a little more positive about nuclear power…also some degree of attitude shift among the voters. May be too late for Diablo Canyon, though.

The article mentions environmental issues about the use of ocean water for cooling. It is true that nuclear requires more cooling than a CCGT gas plant (because it has lower thermal efficiency) Air cooling is possible and used in some cases, but with some sacrifice in efficiency.

So big petro = big nuclear? Weren’t you intimating in his previous article that he is linked to big fossil fuel? You’re coming very close to conspiracy theorising about Claire’s investment strategy; very uncharacteristic of you K :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Since it’s impossible (in practical terms) to construct enough nuclear plants to come anywhere close to meeting U.S. energy needs in the next several decades, uncritical promotion of nuclear energy + denigration of renewables does = support for continued use of fossil fuels.

Yeah, but promoting renewables requires fossil fuel backup, just ask Germany. Do you have a number of nuclear plants required to shed the use of fossil fuels? I don’t, and I agree with you with the all of the above strategy, I just don’t understand why anyone could state that wind and solar are our way out of this mess.

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